Archived Story

The great debate of alcohol laws

Published 8:11pm Thursday, March 24, 2011

Over the past month we’ve seen the debate over revising local alcohol laws intensify on the editorial pages of the Outlook. I’ve followed this discussion with great interest as local citizens have expressed their views both pro and con.

Part of the reason for my interest is due to the fact I’m originally from Cullman, an area that has struggled with this issue for decades. If you know anything about Cullman, you probably are aware the region has been “dry” (meaning alcohol sales are strictly prohibited) for many years, though recently a referendum approved the sale of spirits within the city limits.

As you might imagine, debate over alcohol in Cullman has been intense and considering the fact I lived there for many years, I’ve heard just about every conceivable argument about the subject. Without a doubt, many of the positions put forward on the Outlook’s editorial page over the last month are similar, if not identical, to what I’ve heard in the past.

For example, people supporting alcohol sales invariably point to the economic benefit it would bring, ranging from increased tax dollars to new businesses opening their doors. In Cullman, many looked to Decatur and Athens, two North Alabama cities that had gone “wet” (meaning alcohol sales are allowed) and allegedly experienced huge growth as a result.

Conversely, citizens supporting prohibition (affectionately called “the drys” in Cullman) argued from a religious and moral position, claiming alcohol sales are an affront to God and that alcoholism and crime would increase at an exponential rate if sales were allowed.

Because I’ve heard these arguments so many times before, I’ve drawn some conclusions over the years that I thought might be interesting to some of our readers.

First, it’s simply too early to determine if Cullman is going to receive the huge economic benefit the “wets” promised. However, if you examine the impact of alcohol sales in Decatur and Athens, you’ll find a mixed bag of results. Sure, new businesses, mainly restaurants, have opened over the years, but the massive tax gains promised never materialized. In short, there has been a positive economic impact in both areas, but not to the extent most hoped for prior to legalizing sales.

Second, the “Sodom and Gomorrah” atmosphere that most ‘drys” promised would be created with legalization never happened. Drunks were not stumbling around Decatur and Athens committing heinous crimes while traveling to their favorite strip club. What’s more, God did not rain down fire to destroy these cities, and He probably won’t destroy Cullman either. If He does, it will be over something more significant than liquor sales.

In my opinion, the truth in this debate lies somewhere between the opposing positions of “significant economic impact” and “moral degradation.” If Alexander City and other areas surrounding Lake Martin liberalized alcohol laws, which would include Sunday sales, we would definitely see an economic benefit. But, my feeling is the overall impact on our economy would not be substantial.

Furthermore, almost no business, other than maybe a restaurant, would refuse to locate in Alexander City due to the lack of Sunday sales.

Issues such as the availability of an educated workforce, quality of schools and health care are more important factors.

On the other hand, allowing Sunday sales and other changes would not be an affront to all that is holy. Jesus amazed his disciples by turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Based on this miracle, it’s safe to assume alcohol itself isn’t inherently evil. Making a personal choice to drink in excess, however, is where moral problems can arise.

It’s true the abuse of alcohol can destroy friendships, families and lives. But, this danger comes from personal choices people make and cannot be rectified by social legislation designed to keep people from making those choices.

In my opinion, God honors those who refrain from drinking heavily when it is readily available. He does not honor those who wish to drink in excess, but cannot because they can’t buy it at the moment.

To sum up, liberalizing alcohol sales in Alexander City and other surrounding areas will not change the moral character of our citizens to any great degree. But, if you’re looking for an economic bonanza to come from this change, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.

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